Sunday, June 1, 2014

Card #51: Chicago Cubs Future Stars

Who Can It Be Now?
And what are they all looking at?

Our three players are:

1.  Jay Canfield Howell who was born on November 26, 1955 in Miami.  Howell attended high school at Fairview High School and college at the University of Colorado both in Boulder, Colorado.  Howell was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds twice -- first in 1973 out of high school and then in 1976 in the 31st round after his junior year at Colorado.  He signed with the Reds days later and moved slowly up the Reds chain until he made his major league debut in 1980 for Cincinnati.  

In October of 1980, the Reds swapped Howell for backup catcher Mike O'Berry.  Howell then pitched ten games for the Cubs in 1981.  He went back down to Triple-A Iowa in 1982, where he stayed until August 2 when the Cubs sent him to the Yankees to complete a trade made a year earlier when the Cubs traded for Pat Tabler.  The Yankees used him as a starter in 1982 and 1983 before realizing that Howell was better suited for the bullpen.  So, at the age of 28, Howell became a setup guy for Dave Righetti out of Yogi Berra's bullpen in 1984.  

That was his last year as a Yankee, though, as he was a part of a blockbuster trade that saw him, Tim Birtsas, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk, and Jose Rijo go to Oakland in exchange for Bert Bradley, cash, and some guy named Rickey Henderson.   Howell was an all-star closer for two of his three seasons in the Bay Area.  He then found himself part of a three-way trade involving Oakland, the Dodgers, and the Mets.  He went to the Dodgers, as did Alfred Griffin and (from the Mets) Jesse Orosco.  The A's picked up Bob Welch and Matt Young, and the Mets got Jack Savage, Wally Whitehurst, and Kevin Tapani.

Howell served as a closer in Los Angeles, and enjoyed his final All-Star season in 1989.  He stayed in LA from 1988 through 1992 when, at the age of 37, he was one of the top setup men for Bobby Cox in Atlanta.  Despite his success during the regular season, he never appeared in the NLCS for the Braves.  Howell finished his career in 1994 with the Texas Rangers and did not return to baseball after the strike.

2.  Carlos Manuel (Rubio) Lezcano was born on September 30, 1955, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. He attended high school at Colegio San Jose before he came to the mainland for college at Florida State University.  Perhaps highlighting the oddity that differentiated Puerto Ricans from other Americans, Lezcano attended FSU with fellow major leaguer Terry Kennedy. Kennedy ended up being drafted as a first round pick, but Lezcano signed with the Cubs as a free agent in 1977.

Lezcano went immediately to the Double-A Texas League at Midland in 1977.  He did not perform particularly well -- a slash line of .231/.294/.356 shows that to be true. The next season in spring training, therefore, Lezcano went to Arizona with something to prove to the Cubs organization.

All he proved, however, was that he was a typical 22-year-old kid with more athletic ability than sense.  Walking down the street in Scottsdale during spring training with some teammates, Lezcano decided that he should show his teammates how high he could jump. The story does not mention whether he was challenged to do this or whether he was bragging about it before the leap -- but it certainly was the embodiment of the joke about what the last words of a redneck are before he dies: "Hey y'all, watch this!"  

Anyway, in showing off his jumping ability, Lezcano hit the top of a street sign with his hand and caught a ring on the sign.  He almost severed his right index finger from his hand.  He had to have emergency surgery just to save the finger and, as a result, he had to miss the entire 1978 season.  He did not make an appearance in the major leagues until 1980 as a result, and his major league career ended after a 7-game stint with the Cubs in 1981.  He kicked around the minor leagues with the Cubs, Detroit, and Oakland through the 1984 season, but he never again appeared in the big leagues after 1981.

3.  Elliott Tyrone Waller was born on March 14, 1957, in Fresno, California.  By the time he reached high school, his family had moved to San Diego, where he attended Herbert Hoover High School -- the same high school as baseball legend Ted Williams, in fact.  

Waller was drafted out of high school by the San Francisco Giants in the 33rd round of the June 1975 draft; by that point in the draft, all but 6 teams had passed on making a selection. He did not sign with the Giants, however, and attended San Diego City College for two years. In the 1977 January draft, the Cardinals drafted him in the fourth round as a draft-and-follow player, and apparently Waller showed enough that spring to convince the Cardinals to sign him in May of 1977.  After progressing a level each year from 1977 through 1980, the Cardinals gave him a September call-up in 1980.  Waller got a single off Joe Niekro in his first major league at-bat, but he did not have any other hits that September or October.

In December of 1980, Whitey Herzog was trading off what he felt were spare parts to other teams to try to improve the Cardinals.  In one of those trades, the Cardinals obtained Bruce Sutter from the Cubs and, in return, the Cubs received Ken Reitz, Leon Durham, and Waller. Waller got a thirty-game trial in 1981, and hit .268/.303/.451 in those games.  

His play did little to convince the Cubs that he would be the Cubs' answer at third base.  It also did not help that the Cubs traded away Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies and, in return picked up a hot-shot prospect named Ryne Sandberg and old guy Larry Bowa.  The Cubs plugged Sandberg in at third base in 1982 and moved him to second base only after they signed the Penguin, Ron Cey, after the 1982 season.

As a result, Waller was sent to the South Side of Chicago and the White Sox in exchange for Reggie Patterson.  Waller did not appear for the Sox and, after the 1983 season, he signed with the Houston Astros organization.  He played at Triple-A Tucson for four seasons before retiring as an active player after an 11-game call-up with the Astros in 1987.

Everybody Wants You
As mentioned above, Jay Howell was traded in August of 1982 as the player-to-be-named-later in a nearly one-year-old trade.  Waller was traded after the 1982 season to the White Sox.  

Family Ties
Carlos Lezcano is either the brother (if you believe news stories from 1978) or the cousin (if you believe Baseball Reference of former major-league outfielder Sixto Lezcano (whom we will meet later in this set).

Nanu Nanu
For both Waller and Lezcano, this card would be their last Topps card.  Lezcano never got his own card with Topps -- in 1981, he was a Cubs "future star" along with Steve Macko and Randy Martz.  

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
These Future Stars cards are fun both to see how good or bad the "prospects" in each team's farm system are and to see if Topps was remotely close on calling these guys "future stars." Certainly, if you measure who is a star by whether they make at least one All-Star team, then this card is a solid 1-for-3 with two flailing, horrible, cork-screwing-oneself-into-the-ground strikeouts.

Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that the two guys who did not have very fruitful major-league careers have both stayed in baseball.  Lezcano started his second baseball career as a minor-league manager in 1992 by managing the Seattle entry in the Arizona Rookie League. After three years in the Mariners organization, he spent three years managing for the Giants organization.  From there, he did not manage in 1998, but was then hired on by the Milwaukee Brewers system for four seasons.  After that, he spent 9 years as a minor league manager in the Padres organization.  According to Baseball Reference's Bullpen, he managed last year in El Paso.

Waller got his opportunity as a manager immediately after he retired from playing after the 1987 season.  The San Diego Padres gave him the opportunity to manage their rookie-level club in Spokane, and he stayed in the Padres organization as an instructor in base running and outfield play for five years.  He managed again at Spokane in 1994 and then spent a year on the major league staff in 1995.  After that, he moved into the front office as the coordinator of all minor-league instruction for three seasons and as director of player development from 2000 to 2005.  Since 2007, he has served as a major-league coach for the Oakland Athletics.

Howell went a slightly different direction.  He played until 1994.  In 1998, he became the head coach at Cal State-Northridge, leading them to two Big Sky Conference titles. Eventually, though, he and his wife Linda moved back to Atlanta.  He can be found now at the Lakewood 400 Antique Market in Forsyth County -- the flea market that I have attended in the past and written about on my other blog.  I had no idea that Howell has a booth at that market, and it's not like he is selling baseball cards from it.  If he was, I would certainly have stopped and talked to him.  But, apparently, he welcomes the opportunity to talk baseball with customers at the market.  

Maybe that will be a story for my other blog on another weekend.


  1. Ha....Next time I'm in Atlanta I'm going to go meet Jay Howell!

    1. I swear, I think I'm going to go to the next flea market with a pack of cards and a Sharpie.